The Cambridge/Exclusive Autosport sponsored No. 91 of Braden Eves on track at Barber Motorsports Park Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport) began his comeback Indy Pro 2000 tour in the best possible way – grabbing the pole and setting the Barber Motorsports Park track record in his first official race back. After a serious season-ending incident on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 2019 USF2000 champion, who is making his first official appearance back in Indy Pro 2000, used a last-minute flyer to third career Indy Pro 2000 pole position. It’s the Ohioan’s eighth career Road To Indy pole and the ninth in his North American Junior Open Wheel Career.

“That’s a perfect way to start the season, P1 in race one qualifying – especially after what happened last year, with our season getting cut short,” said an enthused Eves. “It’s a big confidence boost, to know that I’m right where I left off. The team did a fantastic job, giving me a car to put out front. To have the front-row lockout, we couldn’t have done better. I’m extremely happy with the car the Exclusive Autosport crew gave me and know we will have the pace tomorrow to have a successful day.”

Eves’ track record-setting lap of 76.1542 seconds is over one-tenth-of-a-second quicker than a lap turned by former Exclusive Autosport driver Parker Thompson in 2018.

Artem Petrov was only 0.0747 seconds behind his teammate, rounding out an all Exclusive Autosport front row.

Starting on the second row will be Pabst Racing veteran Hunter McElrea and Jay Howard Driver Development sophomore Wyatt Brichacek, who continued his stellar month a Barber Motorsports Park.

Continuing a theme from testing, the Indy Pro 2000 field is exceptionally close, with the top nine drivers all turning laps within a half-second of Eves and the top 16 all within one second.

The first of two Friday qualifying sessions for the season-opening Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader got underway at 10:25 am. The Alabama sky was cloudy, with the ambient temperature at 58F and the track temperature at 78.1F.

All 17 pm-18s powered by Elite Engine 2.0L power plants quickly took to the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course to set the grid for Saturday’s Indy Pro 2000 race.

Juncos Racing Reece Gold and Manuel Sulaiman, along with Pabst Racing rookie Hunter McElrea traded the provisional pole numerous times in the first half of the 1,2000-minute session.

Sulaiman, at 76.6256 seconds, held the top spot with 10 of the 20-minute qualifying session remaining. Sulaiman, multiple-time Indy Pro 2000 pole sitter in 2020, was followed in the top five by Gold, McElrea, Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), and fellow Juncos Racing driver Kyffin Simpson.

Sulaiman continued to set quicker times early in the second half of the session, which proved vital when Rasmussen improved to the second-fastest time on his fifth lap of the session.

Brichacek, who led three of the five sessions during spring training at Barber Motorsports Park, was the first driver to move up the running order in the last five minutes of qualifying.

McElrea moved to provisional pole with four minutes remaining, with a lap that was only two-hundredths shy of the lap record.

Parker Thompson’s three-old track record set with Exclusive Autosport didn’t last much longer before the current “Eh-Team” driver grabbed the provisional pole.

The timing green lit up green in the final two minutes of the first qualifying session, with drivers continuing to go quicker.

With one minute remaining in the session, Petrov’s teammate Eves grabbed the provisional top spot, going even quicker on his next lap.

Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires Qualifying #1 Results (unofficial)

1 91 Braden Eves Exclusive Autosport 1:16.1542 ——
2 42 Artem Petrov Exclusive Autosport 1:16.2289 0.0747
3 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 1:16.2623 0.1081
4 5 Wyatt Brichacek Jay Howard Driver Development 1:16.3044 0.1502
5 22 Manuel Sulaiman Juncos Racing 1:16.3947 0.2405
6 7 Cameron Shields DEForce Racing 1:16.4683 0.3141
7 1 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development 1:16.5905 0.4363
8 55 Reece Gold Juncos Racing 1:16.6166 0.4624
9 21 Kyffin Simpson Juncos Racing 1:16.6638 0.5096
10 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 1:16.7249 0.5707
11 74 Enzo Fittipaldi RP Motorsport USA 1:16.7311 0.5769
12 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports 1:16.7936 0.6394
13 27 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing 1:16.8366 0.6824
14 77 Enaam Ahmed RP Motorsport USA 1:16.8731 0.7189
15 11 Hunter Yeany Velocity Racing Development 1:17.2187 1.0645
16 3 James Roe Turn 3 Motorsport 1:17.3279 1.1737
17 20 Flinn Lazier Legacy Autosport 1:18.4699 2.3157

The second Indy Pro 2000 qualifying session is set to get the green flag at 2:25 pm (central) this afternoon.

Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires gets underway at 11:10 am (central) on Saturday.